Best of our wild blogs: 17 Mar 18

Show your love for forests on International Day of Forests 21-28 Mar
People's Movement to Stop Haze

A Short History of the Jerdon’s Baza in Singapore
Singapore Bird Group

Read more!

Bottled water in Singapore meets safety standards: AVA

Tang See Kit Channel NewsAsia 16 Mar 18;

SINGAPORE: Samples of bottled drinking water in Singapore tested by the Agri-Food and Veterinary Authority's (AVA) as part of routine laboratory tests meet its safety standards, it told Channel NewsAsia on Friday (Mar 16).

AVA said it routinely takes samples of bottled drinking water for laboratory testing to ensure compliance with food safety standards.

Those that fail its inspection and laboratory tests will not be allowed for sale.

So far, laboratory results have shown that the bottled water used in Singapore meet its safety standards, said AVA.

AVA's comments were made in response to queries from Channel NewsAsia after results from a study published on Wednesday showed “widespread contamination” of tiny plastic particles in several of the world’s major brands of bottled water.

The study was commissioned by Orb Media, a US-based non-profit media collective.

Researchers had tested more than 250 bottles of water across 11 brands sold in nine countries, including Brazil, China, India, Indonesia and Thailand.

The results showed that 93 per cent of the samples had “some sign of microplastic contamination”.

Singapore was not one of the test markets, but several of the brands tested and found to have tiny particles of plastic are available here.

Among them are Coca-Cola’s Dasani, Danone’s Aqua and Evian, which together accounted for about 39 per cent of bottled water sold in Singapore in 2015, according to data from Euromonitor International.

Elaborating on its surveillance of bottled water, AVA said it adopts a “risk-based approach in ensuring food safety”.

“Food available in our market, including bottled water, are subjected to inspection, sampling and surveillance to ensure compliance with our food safety standards and requirements.

“For imported packaged/bottled mineral and drinking water, every imported consignment must be accompanied with a certificate of analysis to indicate that the product is safe for consumption. For new brands, licensed importers must also submit a certificate of authenticity for the source.”

Meanwhile, for locally packaged or bottled drinking water, licensed manufacturers are subjected to regular inspections to ensure the adherence of good manufacturing practices, AVA added.

In its reply to Channel NewsAsia, AVA noted that while the World Health Organisation (WHO) has said it is aware of microplastics being “an emerging area of concern”, there is no evidence that microplastics have an impact on human health.

“As such, WHO will conduct an assessment to investigate the potential health risk of microplastics in drinking water.

“Other agencies, such as the European Food Safety Authority and Food and Agriculture Organisation also noted more scientific evidence would be needed for such an assessment.”

AVA said it will continue to monitor international scientific developments on the issue of microplastics and conduct its own risk assessment.

“We will implement appropriate measures to safeguard the health of our consumers when necessary,” it added.


When contacted, bottled water brands said that they disagreed with the study's findings, and that their bottling plants adhered to high quality and food safety standards.

Danone said that it was“not in a position to comment” about the study given that “some aspects of the testing methodology used remain unclear”. It also cited a different study published last year by German researchers that found “no statistically relevant amount of microplastic” in single-use plastic bottles.

The French multinational food product company added that microplastic is an “emerging issue” and that there is “no applicable regulatory framework or scientific consensus" for "testing methodology or potential impacts of microplastic particles which could be found in any bottling environment”.

When asked about the production and packaging base for its bottled water sold in Singapore, Danone said that all of its water “are sourced and bottled in their country of origin”, and that its bottling process “respects the highest hygiene, quality and food safety standards."

Coca-Cola told Channel NewsAsia that all of its Dasani products sold in Singapore are packaged in and imported from Malaysia. “They comply fully with all laws and regulations in Singapore, including the Sale of Food Act.”

The spokesperson added that the company stands by the safety of its products and welcomes continued study of plastics.

“We have some of the most stringent quality standards in the industry, and the water we use in our drinks is subject to multi-step filtration processes prior to production,” Coca-Cola said in an emailed response.

“As Orb Media’s own reporting has shown, microscopic plastic fibers appear to be ubiquitous, and therefore may be found at minute levels even in highly treated products."

Over at Nestle, its spokesperson said in an emailed response: “To date, we have not found microplastics in our bottled water products beyond trace level”.

The Swiss food and beverage giant added that its bottled water products, such as locally-available brands San Pellegrino and Nestle Pure Life, are tested for the presence of microplastics using “state-of-the-art devices and techniques”. “We assure consumers that our bottled waters are safe to drink."

Meanwhile, PepsiCo said its brand Aquafina “maintains rigorous quality control measures, sanitary manufacturing practices, filtration and other food safety mechanisms which yield a reliably safe product”. Aquafina is not available in Singapore at the moment.

The study has drawn stern remarks from the International Bottled Water Association, which said that it was “non-peer reviewed” and "not based on sound science”.

To that, the study’s lead researcher Sherri Mason from the State University of New York said the methodology used was “simple” and “very clearly stated” on the report.

She referred to how the screening for plastic involved the addition of a fluorescent dye into the bottles of water. This dye, called Nile Red, sticks to free-floating plastic pieces and makes them visible under certain wavelengths of light.

After filtering the dyed samples, researchers counted the pieces that were larger than 100 microns. Those smaller than 100 microns were counted using a technique developed by a former astrophysicist to calculate the number of stars in the night sky.

“I don't think it can get any simpler than that, so this idea that it’s a complicated and unclear methodology is not based on reality,” Prof Mason told Channel NewsAsia. “This is a very sound scientific study and I stand by it.”

Following the release of the report, the WHO told the BBC on Thursday that it will launch a review into the potential risks of plastic in drinking water.

Prof Mason described that as an unexpected but “pleasant surprise”. She added that she hoped the study would get consumers “to re-think” habits involving single-use plastic.

“Something as simple as drinking tap water, as opposed to bottled water, can have a huge impact on your personal exposure to plastic, which permeates our lives with other habits like the use of plastic bags, straws and food wrappers. Yet, we don't understand the implications of that.”

Source: CNA/sk

Read more!

Living the plastic life: Experts say straw usage in Singapore 'excessive'

While there are no official figures, one eatery finished 10,000 plastic straws in two months before switching to metal alternatives for dine-in customers.
Jalelah Abu Baker Channel NewsAsia 17 Mar 18;

SINGAPORE: A lunchtime visit to any hawker centre makes it apparent - people here love plastic straws. On tables are straws in cups with lids, poked into plastic film-sealed cups, and even in mineral water bottles.

In fact, if you are having a cold drink in a coffee shop, cafe or food court while reading this, you are probably sipping it through a straw. It is hard to imagine Singapore without single-use straws, since they are so entrenched in the city's dining scene, but that is what some authorities around the world are moving towards.

Internationally, anti-plastic straw sentiment has been picking up, with Scotland planning to ban them by end-2019, and lawmakers in some American states passing orders that limit or prohibit restaurants from using them.

Nearer to Singapore, Taiwan, which can be considered the world's bubble tea capital, will be banning single-use plastics, including straws, by 2030.

Environmental experts said that straws are a good starting point in encouraging the reduction of plastic use, but some businesses who spoke to Channel NewsAsia felt otherwise.


In fact, Wiltian Ang, owner of The Matcha Project, believes that people are more likely to get comfortable cutting back on other plastics first.

“Once consumers are fully comfortable with bringing their own cups and bags, they might just be keen to bring their own straws or not using straws at all,” he said.

To encourage them, he gives a S$0.50 discountfor those who bring their own reusable cups. He said that it would be difficult to stop providing straws freely at his shop, given that his cafe only sells take-away drinks.

When people drink on the go, a straw is best to avoid spillage, he said. He added that the straw doubles up as a stirrer.
“Imagine buying an iced takeaway beverage without a straw. With the ice melting, the drink will be diluted and sediment will settle,” he said.

Mr Ang, who sold 700 iced drinks in January, adding that the low price of straws also decreases the incentive to minimise their use.

Barista Chris Chew echoed Mr Ang’s sentiments. She said that because The Hangar Coffee Express, where she works, does not provide a stirrer, those who add sugar syrup to their drinks use the straw as one.

“If we don’t provide it, and let people request for it, I wouldn’t have time because I’m here alone, I wouldn’t be able to entertain the requests,” she said.

She said that there are customers - about one in every 100 - who bring their own metal straws.

Another drinks seller, who did not want to be named, said that he seals his drinks with plastic film, and that means customers would definitely need a straw to pierce through it. He added that those who get drinks to takeaway prefer their cups sealed, to prevent spillage.


Patrons Channel NewsAsia spoke to said that they take straws “unthinkingly” and that it was convenient to use straws.

Student Manushri Rajesvaran, 17, said: “I use the straws because they give them. If they didn’t, I probably wouldn’t.” She added however that having a lid, which has a hole for a straw is also a good thing for her because she would spill the drink otherwise.

Another patron, who wanted to be known as Ms Foo, felt the same way.

“I don’t think when the stall owner gives it to me, but if he doesn’t, I wouldn’t fight for it,” said the 35-year-old public servant.

Another customer, Ms Lucy Wynn, 42, who works in the corporate finance industry, said that she usually uses straws to keep her lipstick intact and to avoid getting a “milk moustache” when she has iced coffee.

She added that she feels safer using a straw with canned drinks, as she fears the cans would get dirty at some point during the transportation process. The straw users said they knew the environmental harm the small cylindrical plastics could do.


Environmental experts Channel NewsAsia spoke to said that straws are damaging both to animals that end up eating them, to people, and to the environment.

They are often eaten by seabirds and sea turtles, causing starvation and death. In the ocean, plastic straws break down gradually into microplastics, which are eaten by fish and shellfish, said head of “eateries outreach” at non-profit group Plastic-Lite Singapore, Mr Pek Shibao.

“When these fish are caught and eaten by humans, these microplastics wind up entering our bodies as well, which may cause serious negative health effects,” he said.

He added that straws are often not disposed of properly in Singapore.

“As they are small and light, they often get blown into our drains and onto our beaches or into the sea,” he said. Even when they are properly disposed of and incinerated, the burning of plastic generates toxic gases and creates poisonous ash which must be sent to the landfill, he added.

Singapore has only one landfill, which at current rates will be full by 2030, he said.

President of Jane Goodall Institute (Singapore) Tay Kae Fong said that the key problem is pollution from the sheer volume of single-use plastic straw waste generated.

“People may think it's a small straw, but these seemingly harmless straws add up very very quickly,” he said. Plastic straws are made from petroleum and the petrol industry is inherently damaging to the environment.

The institute aims to empower people to make a difference for all living things.


Mr Pek, who defined straw usage in Singapore as “excessive”, said that one of Plastic-Lite’s successful initiatives is getting schools to sign up to stop using plastic straws every Tuesday.

“We visit schools to conduct talks about the impact of disposable plastics, so that students become more environmentally aware from a young age,” he said.

At roadshows, the organisation also gets people to calculate how much plastic waste they generate every year using its plastic footprint calculator.

Mr Tay said that it has “become clear” that the convenience that these straws bring are not worth the harm they do to animals, people, and the environment. To patrons’ worries about hygiene drinking from the mouth of a cup or can, he said it is not established that these are dirty or not washed properly.

“I don't think it's a situation that justifies a switch to single-use plastics as the solution. Isn't it better for us to look into better washing of reusable cups instead?” he asked.

The experts said that businesses could spur change by not offering straws as a default with drinks. One such business that is doing so is Common Man Coffee Roasters.


Since the beginning of this year, the company, which has two outlets, has been providing stainless steel straws.

“This was a move we made to try and reduce our environmental footprint, and was an easy yet effective swap for us to make,” said its brand manager Sarah Rouse.

Prior to the switch the firm, which just opened its second outlet last year, would go through a box of 10,000 plastic straws every two months. Now, the same box lasts more than six months, she said.

All guests who dine in are provided with a metal straw, while takeaway drinks come with plastic ones upon request. Ms Rouse estimated that about half of to-go drinkers take a plastic straw.

“I think it does take some adjusting to, drinking your iced beverage without one,” she said.

Common Man is doing its part by replacing paper napkins with a more sustainable bamboo alternative to reduce paper waste, and encouraging cutting down of use of plastic, with a discount for people who bring reusable takeaway cups, she said.

“The hospitality industry can help in spearheading this as we are positioned well to educate the market and advocate for better choices, a positive move for an industry previously linked to excessive wastage and throw-away consumption,” she added.

Source: CNA/ja

Read more!